More Utahns are dropping unemployment claims than filing new ones, as economy ramps up

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Face masks are recommended at most business in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

Utah’s new unemployment claims have continued to edge down, but still have a long way to go to get to normal levels.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that 6,275 state residents applied for jobless benefits last week, for a sixth consecutive weekly decline from a high of 33,000 in early April.

They are among another 2.4 million Americans seeking unemployment the week ending May 16. That brought the country to a sobering total of 38.6 million people thrown out of work, furloughed or had their pay cut during the pandemic.

At the same time, the state Department of Workforce Services said that 6,583 Utahns had dropped their jobless claims in the week ending May 9, after 4,176 did so the previous week — the strongest sign yet of people returning to work as the state continues to ease COVID-19 restrictions. Some places have even started posting help wanted signs.

“We continue to be encouraged by the number of individuals ending their unemployment insurance claims as our economy dials back up,” Unemployment Insurance Division Director Kevin Burt said.

Just before the pandemic, when its roaring economy was the envy of the country, Utah typically saw 1,000 to 1,500 unemployment claims filed in a week, at most.

Since mid-March, more than 180,000 Utahns have now reported job displacements, including self-employed and so-called gig workers, now covered for jobless benefits for the first time, thanks to Congress.

The state reported 2,604 jobless claims last week from these workers, for a total of 23,935 residents seeking the aid since Pandemic Unemployment Assistance first took effect in Utah in mid-April.

Workforce Services said it paid out $26.9 million in traditional jobless benefits last week, along with an additional $48.7 million in federal money through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, CARES Act.

Burt noted that benefits paid to claimants had declined while the total number of recipients remained consistent.

“This is likely a reflection of individuals gradually returning to work," he said, “and taking less in their weekly benefit amount.”

The Labor Department reported the U.S. unemployment rate for April at 14.7%, a record.

Jobless claims filed in Utah between March 16 and May 10, meanwhile, are thought by economists to represent about 9.6% of the state’s labor force, though Utah’s actual jobless rate won’t be released until Friday.